Changing Norms through Actions: The Evolution of Sovereignty
reviewed by Oğuz Kaan Pehlivan
State sovereignity is one of the central and decisive concepts of international relations and has also been one of the most significant norms of international law since the Peace of Westphalia. Considering the various meanings attributed to sovereignty, it is not a static or absolute term. Jennifer M. Ramos’s recent book, Changing Norms through Actions: the Evolution of Sovereignty, offers a comprehensive and thoroughly engaging analysis of the normative change of sovereignty.
The primary objective of Changing Norms through Actions is to demonstrate the normative change in sovereignty from absolute to contingent. Ra- mos adopts an interdisciplinary approach and skillfully traces the process of normative change through theories of social psychology, law, and politics. Ra- mos focuses on normative change as a result of political or military actions, in which she stresses the idea that international norms change not only by evolution of ideas but also as a result of state actions. Therefore, a military intervention–antithesis to state sovereignty–against a state reluctant to fulfill some domestic or international obligations, opens the door to change in the formation and understanding of “state sovereignty”. In other words, some states rely on other widely accepted norms to justify their interventions, and thus shift norms. Ramos examines this change with regard to counterterrorism, human rights, and the development of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). In order to achieve this, Ramos uses an appropriate methodology through which she analyses the U.N. Security Council speeches and policy responses of China, Russia, the U.S., the UK and France. The author’s language and approach are concise and accessible for a wide audience. Changing Norms through Actions is divided into six chapters with a conclusion in which the in- fluence of different topics (counterterrorism, human rights issues and WMD) upon sovereignty are discussed.
The book starts off with historical background that chronicles the develop- ment of the notion of sovereignty over time, and also constructs a theoretical framework for the following chapters. After drawing the historic and theo- retical debates on sovereignty, Ramos address normative change as result of functions of both structure (environment) and actors. Then she lays out the specific conditions necessary for norm change to occur, and suggests “prominence, coherence, and environmental conditions” as three important factors.
Regarding normative structures that guide and shapes the behavior of states, the author presents a theory of cognitive dissonance. This theory ex- plains tension between the two norms–the sovereignty norm of noninterven- tion and the norm of maintaining international peace and security. Finally, Ramos prepares a data set for assessing the changes in the understanding of sovereignty since the end of the Cold War. Beforehand, in the traditional view, states had the right to conduct their internal affairs independently, “behind the shield of sovereignty” and the international community had the obligation to respect and not to intervene. After the Cold War–this is an evolving view states have obligations to fulfill in order to maintain sovereign and the international community has the right to intervene in the internal affairs of states under certain conditions. In the following chapters Ramos applies that approach to specific issues: counterterrorism, human rights, and WMD.
Considering the global terrorism, Ramos takes the case of Afghanistan and assesses official statements from interveners (U.S. and UK) as well as non- interveners (Russia and China), before and after the military intervention. The case of Afghanistan is important for several reasons but primarily because it is the first international intervention that violated the sovereignty of a state because of its failure to comply with international counterterrorism norms. Somalia is taken as an example to examine the relationship between human rights and state sovereignty; again, statements from interveners (France and the UK) are contrasted statements from non-interveners (China and Russia). According to Ramos, the Somalia case is a first as the international commu- nity united not for geostrategic interests but moral concerns to address hu- manitarian needs and establish order.
Lastly, Ramos examines the military intervention in Iraq to illustrate the link between WMD proliferation and state sovereignty. This time arguments from coalition members, the U.S. and the UK are juxtaposed with those of non-intervening Russia and France. The intervention in Iraq also established a precedent because “there had been no previous military attempts by a coali- tion of states to thwart a state’s progress in this area.” The main finding of the author is sovereignty rests somewhere between absolute state sovereignty and the zero state sovereignty of world government–contingent sovereignty. In this scheme when a state fails to fulfill certain obligations a military interven- tion becomes possible and is usually undertaken. Besides Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia, Ramos has examined the cases of the Libya intervention, the Lockerbie bombing, the 9/11 attacks, the attempted assassination of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, Rwanda, and Bosnia, along with others.
In summary, Jennifer M. Ramos provides an interdisciplinary approach for understanding how normative changes occurs and a trajectory for the future of sovereignty. She successfully covers a wide range of official documents and examines them under her data set. The notion of sovereignty is revealed to be dynamic, and the actions of states affect the context and application of norms. When the necessary conditions for normative change are met, interventions contribute to redefine norms, specifically sovereignty. Regarding the three different cases, Ramos concludes with the counterintuitive observation that the “more arduous and costly the intervention, the more contingent sover- eignty was reinforced”. When faced with difficulty, Ramos finds that political leaders will defend their an intervention with its principles, thus strengthen- ing the transcendent norms of contingent sovereignty. Ramos’s work, while a thorough introduction to the concept of sovereignty and its present-day appli- cations, would have benefitted from examining the concept through the lens of public opinion rather than solely through official state discourses. Never- theless, students of IR would be well-advised to add to it their library.
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|How do international norms evolve? In the modern era, the critically important norm of sovereignty has evolved from a norm once considered absolute to one deemed conditional-to the point where states now risk external intervention if they flout other core norms of national conduct. In Changing Norms through Actions, Jennifer Ramos argues that commitment to international norms depends on the result of actions taken on their behalf. Focusing on the norm of sovereignty, she argues that where intervention does occur, the implications for sovereignty depend on the outcome of the military action. Examining several cases of intervention in support of counterterrorism and human rights, Ramos finds that even when a major power acts primarily out of its own self-interest, the action can unintentionally modify the normative environment within which other states act. Even more surprising, Ramos shows that an arduous military involvement actually strengthens an intervener’s commitment to the norm of limited and conditional sovereignty that justified the action. Changing Norms through Actions clearly and skillfully examines the profound international implications of our shifting understanding of sovereignty.|